By Kyle Mannisi, Opinions Editor
Walmart is the largest private employer in the state of Missouri, with over 13,000 workers in the St. Louis area alone. The retail mega-chain announced that it would raise its minimum wage to $11 per hour, citing recent tax reform, beginning in mid-February.
The decision drew praise from many Republican commentators; “Huge news! Truly amazing and inspiring to witness the tax cuts lifting millions of hardworking Americans up,” tweeted White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
The same day of the minimum wage hike announcement, Walmart broke the news that 10 percent of their Sam’s Club locations would be closing down. In some cases, the affected employees were not notified of their store’s closing until they arrived to work that same day. This practice of failing to notify employees of their store’s closing has been utilized dozens of times.
In 2015, Walmart shuttered five retail stores after labor activism began to take hold in the locations. Over 2,200 employees were consequently left jobless with only a few hours notice, though Walmart’s official reasoning for the closed stores claimed that “plumbing problems” were to blame. Strangely, the chain that cares so much about its employees would rather pull the plug on five stores than attempt to negotiate with unions.
Though Republicans have lauded Walmart for its apparent generosity, it seems as though Walmart’s board members have decided that a measly wage bump would be necessary to stave off calls for unionization. Governor Eric Greitens’ efforts to make Missouri a Right to Work state deprives unions of their bargaining power, meaning workers have decreased ability to effectively address issues and concerns with management.
Not only do Walmart and other “big-box retailers” have a real tendency to drive out small businesses from cities, they also force the town’s population to rely on them for employment once those small businesses are gone. The U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce issued a report in 2013 analyzing Walmart’s effect on the economy and how their stores impact local communities. The report estimated that each Walmart store costs taxpayers between $900,000 and $1,750,000 for social services for their workers such as Section 8 housing, subsidized school lunches, and earned income tax credits.
Eighteen percent of all SNAP benefits were redeemed through Walmart, meaning that Walmart is raking in $13.5 billion dollars annually from the government. Ironically, these recipients are often Walmart’s own employees who earn low enough wages through their job to still qualify for SNAP benefits, among other programs.
Unsurprisingly, Walmart heavily utilizes underpaid foreign labor with horrendous working conditions. In November 2012, a garment factory in Bangladesh that has worked extensively with Walmart caught fire, resulting in the deaths of 112 workers. Survivors say that the fire extinguishers did not work, the fire doors were locked, and workers were told to return to their stations after fire alarms began to ring. The affected workers only made an average of $38 USD per month. After the fire, Walmart flatout denied working with the factory, however leaked documents show at least five supplier companies had entered contract with the factory to provide apparel merchandise to Walmart and Sam’s Club.
If all of this wasn’t enough, St. Louis’ favorite multi-billionaire Stan Kroenke is married to the daughter of Walmart’s co-founder, James Walton. For anyone keeping score at home, this financial power couple possess a combined net worth of over $13 billion. Kroenke starved the Edward Jones Dome of needed upgrades in an attempt to convince city officials of the necessity of building himself a massive riverfront stadium. The failed plan would have meant that St. Louis taxpayers would be responsible for footing a majority of the estimated $1.1 billion stadium.
It is unfortunate that many Americans are forced to rely on Walmart, indirectly supporting their questionable practices. Many areas of urban St. Louis have become “food deserts”; defined by the USDA as “urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food.” Lack of oversight has resulted in many individuals and groups taking action to combat this problem, though often with limited effect. Walmart’s measly minimum wage hike does very little to assist with the real issues that plague America’s low-wage workers. Walmart’s troubling labor-rights history, bad benefits, and poor international business practices should make people reconsider whether or not patronizing Walmart is in their best interest.